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Port Won’t Help Pay for Breakwater Study

Published 8/23/2007 on Grunion Gazette

If the City Council wants the Port of Long Beach to pay half the cost of a preliminary study of the Long Beach Breakwater, they can use money the port already has transferred into the city’s Tidelands Fund.

That was the decision Monday of the Harbor Commission, which oversees operations at the Port of Long Beach. It goes against comments made by Board President Mario Cordero at the July 24 council meeting, when a $100,000 reconnaissance study was approved. Cordero said then that the commission’s Green Port Policy aimed at improving air and water quality likely would support a $50,000 contribution to the cost of the study.

That idea was shot down Monday on a 3-2 vote. Newly appointed Commissioner Nick Sramek voted with Cordero, while commissioners James Hankla, Doris Topsy-Elvord and Mike Walter voted against the expenditure.

The commission discussion and vote came after comments from port tenants ranging from shipping companies to the operator of the THUMS oil islands saying there would be significant damage caused by any reconfiguration of the breakwater. The federally-owned rock wall was built in the 1940s to protect the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, and most current port structures and the oil islands have been built since its existence.

“The number one question to me,” Walter said, “is how are they going to protect the oil islands? As far as I know, that issue hasn’t even been discussed as part of this proposed study. The oil islands generate tens of millions of dollars every year, and must be protected. They were not built to withstand the open ocean waves.”

Cordero and Sramek argued that the study could put to rest issues about what would happen if changes were made to the breakwater. Both said they would not be in favor of any future action if it jeopardized port operations in any way.

“I have listened to all this testimony, and I have heard everyone say ‘could’ and ‘might’ and ‘may’,” Cordero said. “I think it is time to end that uncertainty. We’re never going to find out what the real answers are unless we do this study.

“One of the five principles in our Green Port Policy is engagement of the community. That is exactly what our participation in this study would accomplish.”

But other commissioners pointed to the annual 10% of net profits transfer from the port to the city’s Tidelands Fund as sufficient assistance to the city for this issue. In the current fiscal year, that transfer is $14.2 million, and next year it will be $15.4 million.

Further, both Topsy-Elvord and Hankla said, it makes little sense to pay for a study of something that the port has no plan to support.

“I believe the funds we have transferred into Tidelands are more than adequate if the city wants to pursue this study,” Hankla said. “We have supported the city, and continue to support the city, in many ways.É It may be that this (breakwater issue) has evolved over the years until it is politically correct, but I don’t think it is practically realistic. For that reason, I will be opposed.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the breakwater, and has declined to conduct a reconnaissance study on its own. The City Council approved spending up to $100,000 to conduct an independent study, with the results presented to the Corps.

Even if the preliminary study showed reason to move forward with reconfiguration or removal of the breakwater, the federal government would then be required to do a feasibility study for the work — a $3 million to $5 million project. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who represents the port area, has said he has no interest in studying the breakwater, much less changing it.

The council’s action was not predicated on getting more money from the port. Council members had said they hoped to gain support from the state Coastal Conservancy as well, but the motion approved paying for the entire study from the Tidelands Fund if necessary.

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